It has been a while since the pandemic started. Many people might have already been used to this “new normal” life. However, we are still under an unpredictable situation and might still have fears and anxieties even if we are gradually coming back to the normal life which we used to have before the pandemic. It is still difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so it is an exhausting situation for everyone. 

I recently learned a new psychological term called “Negative capability” which is advocated by Dr. Housei Hahaki, who is an author and psychiatrist in Japan. 

Dr. Hahaki explained the meaning of “Negative capability” and its necessity in our lives. He showed “Negative capability” as an ability to withstand situations where there is no answer and there is no way to deal with it and the ability to stay in uncertainty, wonder, and skepticism without rushing for proof or reason. 

When problems occur in our work and daily lives, we are required to deal with them promptly and solve them, and efficiency and swiftness are always required in our world. However, this “negative capability” is the opposite of the ability required in society. Nevertheless, he dared to suggest that we should awaken to the ability to endure without avoiding that dangling state, which is illogical and cannot be decided in that way. I felt like he is telling us that we don’t always have to ask a right answer right away, no rush, and leave it as it is if you have no idea.

We tend to think and judge things in a dual way: good or bad, right or wrong, like or dislike. However, we sometimes experience something which is beyond our judgment as to whether it is right or wrong, and what is happening in this world is actually something which is not easily answerable. People tend to be very anxious about leaving something which we don’t know as they are. So, we try to figure it out, however, no matter how much developed the science and technology are, we cannot make everything crystal clear yet. There are still unclear, unknown, unidentified stuff all over the world and even in our lives. 

We don’t always need to know the answer clearly and just leave it if it is difficult to make it clear. The idea of “Negative capability” may give us ideas that make us calm and free from the stress of seeking the right answer right away.

This reminds me of one of the passages from Tannisho or “A Record in Lament of Divergences,” which we know as the collected words of Shinran Shonin by one of his disciples.  One day, Yuien-bo, who was one of the disciples, told Shinran Shonin about his worries. “Although I say the nembutsu, the feeling of dancing with joy is faint within me, and I have no thought of wanting to go to the Pure Land quickly. How should it be?” Then, Shinran Shonin just accepted his worry with his empathy and answered “I, too, have had this question, and the same thought occurs to you, Yuien-bo!” I would say this Shinran Shonin’s response has something in common with the idea of “Negative capability” or the ability to accept ourselves in an uncertain situation. Shinran Shonin’s kind response must have relaxed Yuien-bo and freed him from his frustration and given him peace of mind.

I believe everyone can have this “Negative capability” but unfortunately, we don’t notice its importance because we are always living in the world where the opposite ability is always required.  But as Dr. Hahaki told us, now might be the right time for us to try to use our “negative capability” even if things don’t go well as we wished and we are in that dangling state due to the pandemic, so that we can accept and forgive ourselves as we are with peace of mind.